When I was about 36 weeks pregnant with the Boy Child, I vividly remember sitting with a friend, drinking a cup of tea, and worrying out loud, “I hope I don’t bugger this kid up. I’m not very maternal! I don’t know what I was thinking, making a baby!”
That week, my mum had reminded me that I hadn’t yet bought anything for my hospital bag, let alone packed it. We didn’t have a car seat installed yet. The only thing I really had to indicate that I was ready to embark on motherhood was a huge belly, and an equally huge set of boobs. I was starting to wonder whether I was cut out for this parenting gig.
My dear friend (bless her heart) told me I was being a dickhead, and to stop worrying so much. She thought I’d be a great mum. Then she poured another cuppa, and opened up the TimTams, and life was good again.
I was reminded of this conversation recently, when I had a first-time expectant mum tell me during a clinic appointment that she didn’t feel “very maternal”. When I asked her what that meant, she couldn’t put her finger on it exactly; she just wasn’t sure that she identified as the typically “motherly” type.
It seems there is a quite a pervasive stereotype about what it means to be maternal, and thus, a “good mother”. Typical “maternal” imagery often involves soft, filtered lighting, or silhouettes of bellies and curtains floating in the breeze. Rocking chairs and sleeping babies. Softly smiling mothers, gazing into the faces of their children. Breastfeeding peacefully. Confident, yet unassuming, glowing with hormones of peace and contentment. Instantly bonded, and automatically connected with their little people.
Let me just say a few things about that.
Quite frankly, that stereotype is horse-shit, and needs to be thrown out the window.
While some mothers might feel exactly that way from day one, I know of hundreds of others who don’t, myself included.
My introduction into motherhood was less “instant bonding” and more “confusing bewilderment”.
After roaring the Boy Child out into the world, I couldn’t help but feel as though my initial concerns about mothering were right. As I gazed at his little face, and his oddly shaped head, it occurred to me that there was no amount of soft-lighting or rocking chairs that was going to make this experience feel any less weird. Sure, he was cool, but every now and then he’d hiccup, or peek at me with one eye open, or stick his tongue out, and I’d wonder what it was that I was meant to be doing with him. My entire body was aching with fatigue, I was starving hungry and he seemed to cry a lot. Clearly, I must have been doing something wrong. As days went by, I could sit more comfortably, and I’d figured out that the answer to most questions was boob, but still, this tiny, needy little baby was a stranger to me.
Did I feel “maternal”? No.
Was I in awe of him? Yes.
Would I have killed to protect him? Absolutely.
Even months down the track, when I found myself in the grip of Postnatal Depression, and detached from almost everything else in my world, the intensity of my drive to protect and nurture my child over-rode everything else. I might have forgotten how to smile, and even how to feel, but I sure as hell knew how to feed him, clean him, and hold him, and so that’s what I did. I cared for him better than I cared for myself. Why? Because I was his mother, and he needed me.
I, like every first-time mum before me, was learning to settle my child, and feed my child, and to recognise his needs. It wasn’t “natural”, or instant, yet we muddled our way through. And somewhere in the midst of all of that, as we got to know each other, the bonding happened.
Eleven years on, and we’re still muddling through. He answers back, and gives me the shits, and at times, when I’m shrieking at him to put his bloody iPad away before we’re late for school, I think that once again, I must have missed that whole maternal gene.
But do you know what?
If anyone was to deliberately harm that Boy Child of mine, I’d have no hesitation in squeezing the life out of them with my bare hands, so yeah, maybe there is still a bit of maternal instinct in me somewhere.
Being maternal doesn’t have to mean being all warm and fuzzy.
You don’t have to be “perfect” to be a perfect mother to your child.
And “being maternal” is going to look different for each mother, possibly even with each baby she has.
No matter if you grew up dreaming of 12 kids, or fell accidentally pregnant, or went through 27 cycles of IVF to get your baby, you’re going to do your best to protect that darling child.
No matter if you’ve been around babies and kids your whole life, or if you’ve never even looked at one before.
You might bond from the moment you first lay eyes on it, or you might not.
You might own a filtered rocking chair, or you might not.
You might adore every single part of parenting, or you might not.
You might feel completely complete, or completely shambolic, or somewhere in between.
And all of these things are ok.
YOU ARE STILL MATERNAL.
And if you still don’t believe me, have a look at the boss mama in the picture, and imagine telling her she’s NOT maternal. Go on, I dare you.
She’s just as maternal as the stereotypical Instagram Mama, and SO ARE YOU. Despite what you might think about yourself right now, you’ve got this whole motherhood shebang in the bag, baby.
*Found this awesome image on the Facebook Page, Beautiful Breastfeeding, although I don’t know who the original photographer is. Hit me up if you know the original source. It’s one of my favourite images, ever.